by Bruce Holland Rogers
“Our money is next to worthless,” I say into the phone. “The people of other nations laugh at our misfortunes. Criminals control the streets. I tell you, someone must pay!”
“What do you mean?” says my friend. “Who must pay? Pay how?”
“I mean the King,” I say. “He got us into this mess. He should pay the ultimate price.”
“Think what you’re saying,” says my friend.
Just then, my doorbell rings. I hang up and answer the door. Who should be standing there but the very King himself! He’s wearing a jogging suit and trainers, holding a paper sack, but there’s no mistaking that face. It really is him. “Do you think it’s easy?” he says.
“Your Majesty,” I say. I’ve been thinking for months about what I’d do if I could get my hands on him. I should at least shout some insult. But now that he’s here at my door, I mumble, “Your Highness. Won’t you come in?”
“Not on your life,” he says. “I know where I’m not welcome.” He shoves the sack into my arms. “You think what I do is easy? Then why don’t you have a go!”
“What?” I say. The sack isn’t heavy. There is dark fabric inside. Clothes.
“The robes of state,” says the King. “Put them on. You be King for a while.”
“Me? But I can’t be King!”
“Put them on!” says the King. “I command you, as my last official act!” Then without another word he turns and jogs off down the street.
I take the sack into my bedroom where there is a mirror. I take out the purple robe, which you would think would be made out of silk, but it seems to be polyester. The hem is stained. He could have had it cleaned at least, but no. One more example of his royal incompetence! I put the robe on over my clothes. There is a golden sash. I put that on over the robe. At the bottom of the sack, I find the paper crown. Paper? Is this only a joke after all? But I unfold the crown and put it on my head.
Glass shatters and tinkles at the other end of the house. I hurry to investigate, purple robe flowing around me. My friend is stepping through the window frame, careful to avoid shards of glass that still cling to the wood. He wears black.
“What the devil do you think you’re doing?” I say.
Around the knife clenched in his teeth, he says, “Affaffim.”
He takes the knife out of his teeth. “Assassin,” he says. “The tyrant must be made to pay!”
“What, me? But I’m not the real King!”
“That’s all right,” he says, stepping close. “I’m not the real assassin.” He points the knife at my heart. “Hold still.”
Bruce Holland Rogers has taught creative writing in Hungary and Finland on a Fulbright, and he is heading to Japan later this year to do story research under a Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Fellowship. His stories have been translated into over two dozen languages and have won two World Fantasy Awards, two Micro Awards, two Nebula Awards, and a Pushcart Prize. He is on the permanent MFA faculty at the Northwest Institute for Literary Arts. More stories at www.shortshortshort.com.
What is the origin of “Investiture”? What I can say for certain is that I have long been interested in this idea of investiture, of putting on new clothes to represent taking on a new life. Of course, taking on a new life means taking on the whole of that life. Kings, who were once among the sort of people who underwent investitures, were also, at one time, in some places, sacrificial victims of the first order. The king was expected to die if the kingdom
I write at least 36 short-shorts a year, and by the time I am deep at work on one I’ve forgotten most of the details about the origins of the previous story.
needed renewal. So those were some of the ideas that were swimming around in my head when I wrote this story.
What is the origin of “Investiture”?
What I can say for certain is that I have long been interested in this idea of investiture, of putting on new clothes to represent taking on a new life. Of course, taking on a new life means taking on the whole of that life. Kings, who were once among the sort of people who underwent investitures, were also, at one time, in some places, sacrificial victims of the first order. The king was expected to die if the kingdom